When purchasing a ruby, it’s essential to know whether the stone you’re buying is natural, synthetic, or imitation. Each of these categories offers pros and cons, but sometimes, unscrupulous retailers may try to sell a cheaper version of ruby as the real deal.
The only foolproof way of knowing whether your ruby is authentic is to take it to a gemologist or to purchase from a reputable retailer along with a certificate of authenticity. However, there are some tips and tricks that you can do to help you identify your ruby’s origin.
What is a Natural Ruby?
A natural ruby is one that has been formed by natural geological processes, over millions of years. They are formed in natural environments and require intense mining processes to extract.
A natural ruby is made of corundum, the same element that creates sapphires. In fact, ruby is the red version of sapphire. Its hues are caused by chromium present during the stone’s formation.
Due to their rarity, natural rubies are among the most valuable colored gemstones.
What is a Synthetic Ruby?
Synthetic rubies are created in labs, rather than in nature. Chemically, optically, and structurally, a synthetic ruby is identical to natural rubies. However, while natural rubies take millions of years to form, synthetic ones can be created in a matter of months.
Many people believe that synthetic rubies are fake, but this view isn’t true. Lab-created rubies are made of corundum and have the same hues and beauty as ruby grown in nature.
However, because these stones are created in a tightly controlled environment following a recipe, the outcomes are almost always perfect, as opposed to natural rubies, which often have stains and other imperfections.
Also, because they take such a short time to create and use up fewer resources, synthetic rubies are typically much more affordable than natural rubies. It is an ideal, cost-efficient option and is great for anyone shopping on a budget, without compromising on quality.
While some people feel that synthetic stones do not have the romance and history of a natural stone that forms over eons, others love the scientific aspect of it. What’s more, it’s an ethical and sustainable option due to the lower impact that its creation has on the earth.
What is an Imitation Ruby?
This brings us to our final category – imitation rubies. An imitation ruby is a look-alike stone that is different chemically and physically from a natural ruby. These are often less durable and much less valuable.
This is a great option if you want a ruby look without the price tag, and is ideal for versatile, costume jewelry. The jewelry is often cleverly designed and it can be difficult to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake. However, if you’re paying the price of a natural or synthetic ruby for an imitation ruby, then you’re being ripped off.
Common Fake Rubies
There are certain materials and other gemstones that are typically used as ruby imitations. These include the following:
1- Red-Colored Glass
Glass is a popular ruby imitator. These ‘rubies’ are inexpensive and have a short lifespan.
It can be easy to tell a red-colored glass stone from a real ruby by the inclusions it has. Often, glass contains tiny air bubbles that real rubies rarely, if ever, have.
If you have a natural ruby to use for comparison, hold it up along with the suspected glass ruby to a source of light and look for similarities in structure and appearance. You will notice the differences in inclusions and color.
A popular red gemstone often used in jewelry, and the January birthstone, garnet is a beautiful gemstone in its own right. However, it’s much less valuable than rubies and is readily available. This makes them an excellent ruby alternative or imitator.
Garnets are composed of dark reddish silicate minerals and are much less durable than rubies, with a Mohs ranking of 6.5 – 7.5 as opposed to the rubies’ ranking of 9.
Although they’re reddish, garnets are somewhat dull in appearance and have a mahogany or burgundy hue. They can be light in color but are not brilliant as ruby can be. A quality natural ruby has a very deep and bright red color, which is sometimes called ‘stoplight red’.
Tourmalines, while a gorgeous gemstone in itself, is commonly available and therefore not very valuable. It is comprised of crystal silicates, and when found in dark red hues, it can be passed off as ruby.
Tourmaline is not as hard as ruby and comes in at 7 – 7.5 on the Mohs scale. A simple scratch test may help you determine if your ruby is real or some other gemstone.
4- Ruby Composite
Also known as glass-filled rubies, these are made by treating non-gem quality rubies with the lead glass-filling method.
This is done by removing unwanted matter, such as various foreign minerals and debris, from the low-quality red corundum. The cavities and spaces left behind by the removal of the foreign matter are then filled up with heated liquid glass.
This process can also increase the size of the stone, making it profitable for jewelers. Unfortunately, these composite stones are often sold in the guise of ‘real rubies’.
5 Tests to Check for a Real Ruby
It’s difficult to distinguish the difference between a synthetic, natural, or fake gemstone and often requires a trained eye.
While there are some simple tests that you can conduct at home to try to figure out the origin of your stone, the best option is to take it to a professional as this will remove any doubt.
1- Seek Professional Help – For Your Stone
The best way to identify your stone’s origins is to take it to a professional gemologist. They will be able to have a look at it using their gemological tools and tell you its origin.
Choose a reputable jeweler, with a proven track record. Ask your gemologist to provide you with a certificate of appraisal, which will be evidence of the value of your stone.
This option is only viable if the stone is expensive because having a gemstone appraised is costly and not worth the price for inexpensive pieces of jewelry.
2- Look for Minuscule Flaws
A natural ruby will have tiny flaws that are not visible without a microscope. There will also be natural stains of imperfection present within the stone. Because natural rubies grow in unpredictable and dangerous conditions below the earth, they are prone to inclusions and debris.
Most times, the flaws are so tiny that only expert gemologists would be able to see these using a process called spectroscopy. Under high magnification and special instruments, these flaws in naturally mined stones become obvious.
You can also examine your ruby at home using a quality jeweler’s loupe, like this one, to spot any flaws.
Synthetic rubies are generally flawless, as these microscopic inclusions are difficult to replicate in lab conditions. If your stone is flawless, it is probably a synthetic stone or perhaps even an imitation.
If there are bubble-like inclusions, this can be an indication that the stone is glass and not an actual ruby.
3- The Scratch Test
Ruby is highly resistant to scratches, ranking at 9 on the Mohs scale. It is second in durability only to diamond and moissanite, meaning that only a diamond (or an object with the hardness of a diamond) can scratch it. In comparison, glass is a mere 5.5.
Scratch the surface of your ruby with a key or coin and look for any scratch marks. If there are scratch marks, then the stone is probably a fake. A real ruby cannot be scratched so easily.
4- The Rub Test
In this test, you are looking to see if your stone leaves color. Use the ruby to scratch a hard, smooth surface, such as a piece of glass. If there is a streak of red color left behind on the surface, then it is clear that your stone is a fake.
A real ruby will never leave color in that way. The only issue with this test is that you cannot be sure that the stone is real if it doesn’t leave a trace of color. You can only be certain it isn’t genuine if it does.
5- Price and Size
Natural rubies can be very expensive. A synthetic ruby can be about 20% less expensive than a natural ruby, while an imitation can be up to 90% cheaper.
If your ruby is extremely inexpensive, it is probably a fake. If it is reasonable but not overly cheap, it is probably a synthetic stone.
In terms of size, it is very difficult to find natural rubies in large sizes. Those that do come in large sizes are extremely valuable. If a ruby is quite large, there is a high probability it is synthetic or imitation.
Shopping Smart – Where and How
It always makes sense to shop smartly and check the stone carefully prior to buying (you will be surprised at how many people do the opposite).
Whether you opt to shop online or at a brick-and-mortar store, the rules generally remain the same. One main difference when shopping online is to ensure that you see high-quality images and videos of the actual ruby and not simply a stock photo.
Most importantly, shop from a reputable and registered vendor. Ensure that you are given a certificate of appraisal and check that the stone has been examined by a professional gemologist.
When it comes to purchasing natural, high-quality rubies online, we recommend the following stores:
- Delarah Jewelry: Specializing in gemstone jewelry, Delarah offers a wide range of cherry-picked rubies in quality settings at competitive prices. Delarah Jewelry also offers excellent customer service and after-sales policies.
- James Allen: An online giant in the diamond space, James Allen also offers loose ruby gemstones and fine ruby jewelry. The images and videos are unparalleled in quality and make shopping online similar, if not better, to shopping in-store.
- Blue Nile: Blue Nile has an excellent selection of ruby jewelry as well as loose gemstones. With competitive prices, after-sales policies, and good customer service, it’s a great place to take your ruby search.
- Brilliant Earth: For synthetic rubies, check out Brilliant Earth’s small but exclusive collection. The company prides itself on its ethical stance, offering a wide range of recycled metals and lab-created gemstones.